The Black Sea by VP Von Hoehen book cover
The Black Sea (2011) is a fast-paced thriller that sprawls across Europe as its heroine, Kate Allen, a small time journalist caught up in an extraordinary story, tries to explain the suspicious death of French film star, René Socarov, and uncover the secrets that his family hold. As she’s pursued through some of Europe’s most beautiful cities by unidentified gangsters she must decide who to trust; René’s close friend and renowned chef Andreas, the charming but unpredictable William, or the actor’s mysterious aid, Étienne.

Although the novel opens in America its heart lies in the rich, cultured streets of Europe, where Kate is initiated in the pleasures of great art, decadence, and most importantly food. All are described affectionately by VP Von Hoehen, as are the people of Europe, who are not blindly stereotyped but treated sensitively as individuals (although there are still Russian gangsters and food loving French men a plenty). The novel sets a cinematic tone, and it is no surprise to find that the author has ambitions of adapting the Kate Allen novels for the big screen. Indeed, Kate Allen has already been compared to James Bond although, as a post-modern heroine, Jason Bourne may be a better comparison.

In the thriller tradition the writing is short, sharp and economical. Whilst there are some nice descriptions of European culture and food other passages feel underdeveloped, and the opportunity to create really tense scenes is often skipped over too quickly. With the exception of René’s highly accented tone, much of the dialogue is written in a similar voice and rhythm, failing to wholly capture individual characters' own tongues. However, the prose runs along fairly fluidly, and whilst there is a little too much exposition and repetition of internal points of view, rarely takes the reader out of the moment.

Despite some slightly improbable drivers, the plot is structurally good and follows some interesting ideas. At just 224 pages, The Black Sea is an easy read and an intelligent, fun thriller. As a first novel it demonstrates VP Von Hoehen’s understanding of how to craft a structurally coherent work, which features all the key elements of a good thriller. However, there is a lack of assured fluidity, indicative of an author finding his way and without the confidence to deviate greatly from accepted principles of the genre. With additions to the Kate Allen series planned one hopes this potential is converted into freer, more distinct novels in the future.

I enjoyed The Black Sea, and got through it in no time at all. There were some fun descriptions of Europe and a pretty good plot.

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Reviews of The Black Sea on Amazon (UK)
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VP Von Hoehen is a journalist, author and screenwriter. Born in Canada, he has lived in the US, Spain and the UK, contributing articles to many publications worldwide, including reviews, interviews and critical essays. VP is an active... [Read More]